Episode 111B – Armin Shimerman – Choosing to Write

Overview

Armin has vast experience as an actor, but enjoys a playhouse also. He has studied Shakespeare and teaches students about Shakespeare. And yet, he had the desire to write.

We have a great discussion about the different activities he does along with writing and why he chose write in the first place. Authors, there is a lot of great information that you really should listen to.

YouTube

https://youtu.be/NsnCgT239Lc

Transcript

[00:00:49] Stephen: Hey. All right. Let’s talk a bit about author stuff the second half, instead of just books. Still book. So your writing process, what do you [00:01:00] use to write? Do you paper, pencil? Do you use word? What do you like to

[00:01:04] Armin: use? I use my computer. I have a pro I have a Mac, so I started off with word when I started writing the novels.

And by the way, I’ve been writing this particular series for about 20 years. Yeah. But with my newer computer, my new Mac it’s on page it’s. So it’s always done on a computer. I am. A go that people who write with pencil and paper, because that’s really hard to switch things around if you want, oh, wait, that shouldn’t happen until later.

Or I need this to happened at the end to happen earlier. It’s so easy to cut and paste with a computer, but you can’t do with pencil and paper. And, uh, and I like to erase. I like to go, nah, that’s not any good cut. Cut it all out. So it’s just easier to do that with a computer than it is with paper and.

Yes.

[00:01:50] Stephen: And I’m a computer database guy. So I discovered Scrivener, which fit my brain perfectly. And every time I wanna make major changes, I can [00:02:00] save a snapshot. So if I go, you know what, that sounded better with this. I got all. So yeah, I love it. Wasn’t for computers. I probably wouldn’t have written cause my handwriting’s horrible.

[00:02:10] Armin: Yeah, mine too. I, when I go back and read things, I’ve written in my own hand, I can’t read them. I don’t, what did I say here? Terrible.

[00:02:19] Stephen: All right. And so before we started, we were talking a bit about various other things. And so there’s multiple great things that we could discuss and we could probably be on for a lot longer than either of us have the time for, so let me ask first, you do a voiceover, you do acting you’ve written, they’re all based around story.

Sorry, what were you gonna. I

[00:02:43] Armin: was gonna say, don’t forget the teaching, but yes. And ended

[00:02:46] Stephen: yes. Ended. Yes. They’re all creative. And they’re based around the story. What do you find different when working with each of those? But we talked about this a bit before, but your creativity as an actor, [00:03:00] compared to your creativity as an author, what are some of the differences in both

[00:03:05] Armin: of those?

As I said before, One is a rather lonely process. That’s the writing and you’re sparking yourself, or you’re inspiring yourself off of thoughts that you have or things that you see in front of you on the screen that you’ve written. And so that is a very lonely process. Acting is, as I said before, a communal process, and you’re working off of different people.

There are two philosophies about acting in America. One is called the actor studio. Everybody’s familiar with that. And the other one is called the neighborhood play. The actor studio. It says that all of your life comes within and it’s, and I’m overstating this and not saying it, but that comes from experiences and you relive those experiences.

The other one, the neighborhood class, which I am a fan of says that all life comes from the other person and whatever the other person is doing, you take your inspiration from that, whether it’s [00:04:00] conscious or unconscious. So it’s a communal experience. Even with the actor studio, you are working with another.

and so that’s community, so they’re different mindsets. They’re both creative, but it’s a very different process, a very different process. And I’m very good at one, which is the communal process. And I’m steadily getting better in the other process.

[00:04:26] Stephen: I love that. You just said that because I know a lot of authors, especially someone like me, who’s a parent first has a job and writes on the side.

You get that, oh my gosh, this sucks. Nobody’s ever going to like it. And to say, I’m getting better. I love that because hopefully the whole idea of the podcast is to help other new authors and inspire them. Okay. I can do this. Other people are doing it. So I appreciate you saying.

[00:04:54] Armin: And I will go one step further.

And thank you for saying that, which is you always get no matter what you [00:05:00] do, no matter whether it’s bricklaying or writing or dentistry, whatever you always get better by doing so, the more you do it force yourself to sit down. If you’re a writer, force yourself to sit down and just think about it.

Invariably, something will happen. You’ll start to write something. It may be just three words. It may be 300 words. But something will happen. You just have to make yourself available for the muse to whisper in your ear. If you don’t do that, she won’t talk to you and you’ll never get anything done. So whether it’s good or bad is moot, what’s important is that you sit down and that you and you open yourself up to the experience of possibly writing something.

And invariably something does come and you’ll be so happy at the end of the day that you did it. Right. Love

[00:05:54] Stephen: that. So when you’re acting voiceover or on a show, you’re [00:06:00] only getting a piece of a overall story, cuz you’re probably in a scene or two out of the whole 45 minutes or whatever. So you miss out on the story overall, how do you portray your character and do the lines and get that story to come across to the audience when you’re only doing a small piece of it, you’re not doing the overall story.

Like you would in a book.

[00:06:24] Armin: Sure. And we have to look at the different experiences that you just described. There is a huge difference between being. What we would call a day player where someone just shows up to do one, one or two scenes or three scenes in a TV show or a film, which is what you just described, which is you have a little responsibility, a tiny bit of responsibility for a major project that is different than, and you are inventing your character.

Although the words are there, you are inventing what the [00:07:00] actor brings to a performance to a. That is very different than when you’re a recurring character. When you know who your character is, you’ve played that character before. But again, it’s not one of the larger roles, it’s a recurring role and how you fit into your slice of the story.

A little bit more responsibility, a little bit more practice, but still not responsible for the whole story. Then there’s the third level, which is the series regular and on TV show where you’re carrying a lot of the story and you’re telling a lot of the story, but again, there are probably 6, 7, 8 series regulars.

And so you are only telling your one eighth of that. So those, each of those is a different responsibility each with a different take the day player or the one day guest star, we can call it that too. Is struggling to move. As quickly as the guy who’s been on the show for six years, who knows his character back and forth [00:08:00] may even know where the story is going in the future episodes.

Whereas you, as the one day guest star are totally in the dark and you’re making a lot of guesses and hoping keeping your fingers crossed that what you’re doing is right in the others. You have more understanding, you have more insight into what the whole project is and how you fit into that. So

[00:08:24] Stephen: do, you mentioned you were doing a book that you basically channeled the cork character.

Did you find after being cork for so many years that the, it was easy to write a story with that character in your head?

[00:08:39] Armin: It was easy cuz I knew the character really well. Again, reiterating what I just said because I played that character for a long time. I knew that character really well. The, uh, challenge was what does he do next?

And how does, because it was science fiction. What are we doing here? What world am I creating? What making it up instead of being making it up as I went [00:09:00] along, the great thing about writing historical novels is that you can’t do that. You have to fit characters into a time where there are no computers in at least in 1583.

There are no travel is different. One of, one of the discussions I have with my editor often is why can’t they just send a message? I go, they can, but it’s going to take a week. It’s going to take a week to get from Europe to England. And it depends on the weather. Whether the boat can get through, these are all new challenges that you have to say, oh, I gotta deal with the world that existed.

I can’t just make it. I can’t just have somebody beam from one place to the other in nano. So that, that’s one of the things you have to do. So that, that’s it.

[00:09:48] Stephen: If I answer that, yes. So when you wrote your books and you got your characters, you, do you feel, you think of, ’em like an actor, like when you’re doing the lines, like you, like you’re acting [00:10:00] it out, is it the same thinking for you?

I guess,

[00:10:04] Armin: no, it’s a different type of thinking. And I’ve asked myself that question actually many times myself. I do think of the other characters on a TV show as real live characters. And often if they’re cast, if I know who the actors are, that’s easy to think of them that way. I, as a writer, I think of my characters as characters, but I’m actually more interested in what they’re going to say.

And of course that comes out of the character, but I’m much more interested. It’s strange to say this I’m much more interested in the dialogue as a writer than I am as an actor, I’m dealing with a three dimensional human being. And of course what they say, but as a writer, I’m interested in what they’re saying more than I am in who they are, at least that’s the way I think.

Anyway.

[00:10:58] Stephen: Interesting. [00:11:00] Interesting. I like that. And so then, Do plays compared to the TV show. Do you think the same way with the characters then? Cause play, you don’t get a cut and redo and

[00:11:12] Armin: right in a play. It’s the same thing you’re working with real people, even before you meet the people before the rehearsal.

Yes. You ask things in your mind and then they’re cast for you the first day of firstly. Oh, that’s who’s playing Hamlet. I see. Okay. And I, again, on stage, you think of them as real people and you are cause you are standing on stage. It’s not just this working. It’s not just the mind working. Everything is working.

Your arms are working. Your legs are working. Your back is working your how close am I to the couch? How far away am I from the door? How close is the first audience member? Can they hear me in the back. There are many things happening when you’re on stage that you don’t have to worry about as a writer and you don’t have to [00:12:00] worry about on camera.

You don’t have to worry about projecting on camera. You don’t have to worry about making sure that you open the door for someone to leave on stage. Whereas you, what? You don’t have to worry about that on camera. Because if you don’t do it, cut, we’ll do it again and get it. So there are many things that you are considering while you’re on stage, even as you’re listening very intently for the audience response.

If the people, if the audience thinks they’re sitting in the dark and the actors can’t see them, or aren’t aware of them, they’re totally wrong. The after you’ve gotten over your nerves of performing the part, which happens within the first week of previews, then everything you’re doing. Is listening for the response of what the audience even silence, you’re listening for silence.

And then of course, you’re also keeping your ears open. To any nuances that the actor on stage that’s working with [00:13:00] you is doing as well. You need to respond. So your mind is working quite a bit, trying to take in all this information, process it, even as the audience believes that you are playing the character, you are both inside and outside of the character simultaneously on stage.

[00:13:18] Stephen: Got it. And I love that you’ve got these different experiences with different charact. Stage acting. So I’m sure that affects your writing differently than somebody who’s never acted and gives it that different voice that people who don’t act

[00:13:35] Armin: wouldn’t have exactly right. One of the things I’m proud of in my books is I’ve mentioned once or twice already is about the language.

And because I’ve spent so much time performing Shakespeare and I have done a lot of Shakespeare, I am. I’m interested in the sound. I can write something that’s rhetorically. Correct. But if it doesn’t sound right to me as an actor, then it’s wrong. My characters [00:14:00] have got it wrong. My written characters have got it wrong.

I, it, and that is my actor’s brain saying it doesn’t sound right. It doesn’t sound right. And that I think is probably true for every script writer. Who, whoever wrote on TV or film, it might be the right line, but it’s not, it doesn’t sound right. That’s a choice. That’s a creative choice that, that you make in addition to everything else.

How does it sound? Right. Because Shakespeare picked words sometimes for their sound, which is part of rhetoric as well. But the word sounded like what he wants it to mean, or he knows what he wants it to. But he picks the right word. That has sound the echo of the feeling as well as the definition

[00:14:52] Stephen: of the feel.

And not only just picked it, but sometimes would make up his own word that has become part of our lexicon since [00:15:00] then,

[00:15:00] Armin: precisely it was, this is one of the reasons I’m interested in that period. Language was only a hundred years old when Shakespeare was. They wrote cha wrote in middle English, which is a different sound altogether when people say, oh, Shakespeare’s old English.

I correct them immediately. You know, Shakespeare’s modern English, middle English, cha, which when that, with the, which that’s middle English, that’s only a hundred years. There are people alive today that are a hundred years old. That’s only a hundred years. Between middle English and modern English and yes words, all kinds of things were being created in language.

And we had all these dialects also because of commerce. People were meeting each other because they were able to because of commerce.

[00:15:46] Stephen: Nice. And again, there’s the history put things together. We also talked a little bit before we got started about some of your other activities. And one of them intrigued me was you work with young men who [00:16:00] have gotten in trouble and are in juvenile or prison system.

And you work with them in a way that an actor can help each other. Tell us a little bit about that and why you chose to do something like that.

[00:16:13] Armin: Sure. I was fortunate years and years ago to be invited to a reading. That was created by star Trek’s, uh, great creator, Rick Berman’s wife, Liz Berman, who was a genius to herself.

She doesn’t need Rick. And what she did was take boys who were incarcerated, not in prison, but in, in juvenile lockup and, and gave them and introduced them to literature by having them write their own story. And the first one I went to was in a bookstore in west. And I was so moved by these stories that I rushed over to Liz and thanked her immensely for that fast forward.

A couple of [00:17:00] years after I became part of a theater group called anti Liz, came to us to the theater group and said, I wonder if your theater group can help me with my pushing this idea, which we immediately did. And, and Ts became the teachers. For this. And we started with Shakespeare. We didn’t teach them Shakespeare.

God forbid, I, that, that would’ve been horrendous. But rather what we did was take themes from Shakespeare that these boys could identify with. For instance, I remember starting with king Leer. We have two brothers in king Le we have one that’s a Bastar literally. His mother and father were not married.

The other one is rejected by his father and is an outcast because his father won’t accept. These were though they’re Shakespearean plot lines. These are things that the boys understood and in some cases had lived. [00:18:00] So they got that immediately forget about the language they were interested in. These characters that Shakespeare had created.

We’ve done it with other plays as well. Henry the fifth Richard. So we get them interested in that and they realize that their lives are not unique, that other people have gone through the same troubles woes that they have. And then slowly we ask them to write about themselves and it’s never criticism.

It’s just an expansion. Go further with that. What more do you want to. You suggest over here that, that this is happening. I know that’s a sensitive area for you. Would you mind going a little further with that? That we don’t always succeed, but we open people up to writing one, but two showing their inner [00:19:00] selves out.

And what’s amazing is oftentimes in, in these incarcerated situations, we have different gangs. One person from one gang is opening up to someone in another gang, and that is a phenomenal experience. And then the, the culmination of all, this is a presentation after probably about six months of work to, to an audience of people that come to listen to these play.

Excuse me, come to listen to these short stories. As I came to that bookstore in Westwood and the response is always the same. These stories are so galvanizing, so heartfelt, so amazing, so different in the life experience of most of the people in the theater and that. There’s a five, 10 minute standing ovation for these boys.

And they bask in [00:20:00] that adulation, which most of their lives they’ve never had. And they’re being told by these total strangers, that what they did was good. And oftentimes the recidivism disappears in these situations. Our boys go on to college, go on to other things and knock on wood. So far as I know, have rarely gone back into luck.

[00:20:23] Stephen: That was gonna be my question. What feedback have you gotten after this, from these boys or from others? That, and it sounds exactly I’ve had that same thought. We give them

[00:20:34] Armin: a purpose. We give them self respect. We give them, we don’t give them. They take it. It’s not what we’ve done. It’s what they’ve done.

They take. And they realize their lives can be better, that they are worthwhile. They’re doing something that people respect, like admire appreciate, and that gives them something to hang onto to say, you know what? I can do [00:21:00] something with my life.

[00:21:02] Stephen: I I don’t even have anything to say after that. That’s so perfect.

Everything you just said, I’ve been trying to do the same thing. Using story and video games, because I see a lot of kids. The anxiety level in kids’ twenties has risen. I’ve seen the statistics, it’s gone up like 18% over the last decade. And it’s because we tell them, you need to go to school. You need to make something of yourself.

But what they see is school that’s expensive and doesn’t get you a job doing what you have to pay back. And the jobs are disappearing. You can’t get jobs at McDonald’s and there’s despair there. They don’t, what do I. And we haven’t given them all the alternatives. It takes time for them to say, I could write, I could act, I could be a comedian.

I talk to a lady who does all those things. And I think sometimes we need to show the kids, the alternatives, what they can do and give them [00:22:00] that hope. Like you said, I love that. That’s

[00:22:02] Armin: and give them the appreciation. I, I. It’s not meant to do that, but I do know that when they stand up and when they stand in front of that applause and they are appreciated, that makes a huge difference to them that they go I’m worthwhile.

I think that’s really important. I think to give people self worth is something we need to do all the time, especially for people who are born into situations that are not as lucky or as good as other.

[00:22:34] Stephen: agreed. Absolutely. So have you heard any of the boys you worked with, have they written any more after that?

Have there been any books published?

[00:22:45] Armin: I’m pretty sure there have been no books published, whether they’ve written or not. I should know more of, and I don’t have an answer for that. Like a teacher. Not what a teacher should do is keep in touch with all of his ex students. But like a [00:23:00] teacher, I go from one year to the next year, to the next year and, uh, and get a new group of boys.

Sometimes the faces are the same, but most of the time it’s a new group of boys. And we now do this with girls as well, but no, it’s a fault, a grievous fault that, I admit to no, I’ve never really checked up on

[00:23:17] Stephen: them afterwards. I would. I’d love to. Hear more and find out maybe sometime if I ever run into you at a convention or something, if you hear it more, cause I’d love to find out more about that because I’m totally on board with what you were saying.

I totally believe if we can show the kids something more beyond the despair and the my gosh, look at all these problems

[00:23:38] Armin: we’ve got or what their gangs tell them. Yeah. The gangs tell them that they’re the only respect they have is being part of a gang. And we are saying no there’s alternatives. Yeah,

[00:23:49] Stephen: one, one of the long term goals, which I don’t know if I’ll ever reach, I’d love to find a school.

That’s a troubled school, the like that eighties [00:24:00] movie about the principal who goes in with the baseball bat and changes life, find the school and these kids that like their graduation percentages, like single digits and work with and show them, look, you can do stories. You can do. Program, you can make video games right now with all the tools you have and your own creativity and skills.

And I’d love to see that change some lives, that something that they’ve never, what do you mean I can make? You don’t need a ton of. This added other thing to write a story or program a video game, or even draw. These are all things tools that they can do and use right there in high school and middle school.

I would love to work with a group to do that and see the changes

[00:24:43] Armin: it could make. I know in Los Angeles we have quite a few of those sort of situations wherever you are. I’m sure they probably have something like that as well. So a little bit of research and a little bit of volunteer work, and I’m sure you’ll be in the.

[00:24:57] Stephen: Yeah, that’s something I definitely wanna look into [00:25:00] more. All right. I don’t wanna take up your whole day Armen. I do appreciate you taking the time, getting on telling us about your book and talking a bit inspirational authors. I just really love meeting you and talking to you. It’s wonderful.

[00:25:13] Armin: Well, thank you.

Thank you. I, we didn’t actually talk about inspirational authors. I have quite a few of those. Oh, you have to please tell me Hillary mantel. A series of books that everyone should know as, oh my God. Wolf fall, which were very inspirational. There’s a recent book out by a lady named Maggie Flannery. Called Hamnet, which is a beautiful book.

These are authors that in, in Hillary Mantel’s case, after reading Wolf hall, I stopped writing for 10 years. And the reason I stopped writing was I can’t write like that. That’s extraordinary writing. And I what’s the point of even trying to emulate that, cuz it was the, the periods weren’t the same. They were [00:26:00] close, but they weren’t the same.

But the desire to the same sort of story was mine to tell as. And although she didn’t have fictional characters, but so that stopped me for 10 years because I was in awe for writing. But what I came to find out was don’t be intimidated by good writers. Let them inspire.

[00:26:20] Stephen: Thank you for that, because I know there’s a lot of my author, friends that are like, ah, I could never write and be you.

Thousands tens of thousands, millions of people that love star Trek. And I would probably line up forever if you allowed them to talk to you at conventions and whatever else. And even you were like, man, I don’t think I could do that. So it’s a human thing. We need to understand and realize that because we all can write and create.

Be addition to the world in that way.

[00:26:56] Armin: And your voice is essential. It’s what we’re talking about. The boys a moment ago, [00:27:00] your voice is essential. Your voice is as important as Shakespeare’s voice as anyone’s voice. And you have a story. Tell your story, get it off your chest, do what you have to do, and you’ll feel better for it.

If anyone reads it, that’s the icing on the cake. If they like it even more icing on the cake. It’s important of course, for them to like it, but it’s really much more important for you to do it. Great. So you see the mountain climate. Get to the other side, know that you’ve done it and reward yourself for having done something that was before thought of is

[00:27:34] Stephen: impossible.

Thank you. Love it. I appreciate that. Thank you

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